How to Set Up and Use Apple Pencil on Your iPad

How to pair, charge, and use the Apple Pencil

Man designing with Apple pen on an iPad
Apple, Inc.

The Apple Pencil demonstrates just how far we've come from the Steve Jobs iPad. Jobs had a well-known disdain for the stylus, declaring that touchscreen devices should be easily operated with fingers. But the Apple Pencil is no ordinary stylus. In fact, it's not really a stylus at all. The pencil-shaped device may look like a stylus, but without a capacitive tip, it's something else altogether. It's a pencil.

The capacitive tip on a stylus allows it to interact with a touchscreen device in the same way that our fingertips can register on the screen while our fingernails will not. So how does the Apple Pencil work with the iPad and iPad Pro? The iPad's screen is designed with sensors that allow it to detect the Apple Pencil, while the Pencil itself communicates to the iPad using Bluetooth. This allows the iPad to register how hard the Pencil is pressing and adjust accordingly, allowing apps that support the Pencil to draw darker when the Pencil is pressed harder against the screen.

The Apple Pencil can also detect when it is held at an angle, allowing the artist to turn a very precise line into an eloquent brushstroke without the need to change to a new tool. This feature allows a bit more freedom while working with the Apple Pencil.

How to Pair Your Apple Pencil With Your iPad

The Apple Pencil may be the easiest Bluetooth to set up on your iPad. In fact, even though it uses Bluetooth, you don't need to go check your Bluetooth settings to pair the device. Instead, you simply plug the Pencil into your iPad.

Yes, the Pencil plugs into the iPad. The "eraser" side of the Pencil is actually a cap that can be taken off revealing a Lightning adapter. This adapter plugs into the Lightning port at the bottom of the iPad Pro, the port just below the Home Button.

If you do not have Bluetooth turned on for your iPad, a dialog box will prompt you to turn it on. Simply tap Turn On, and Bluetooth is activated for the iPad. Next, the iPad prompts asking to pair the device. After you tap the Pair button, the Apple Pencil is ready to use.

Where Do You Use the Apple Pencil?

The Pencil is primarily a drawing or writing tool. If you want to take it for a test run, you can fire up the Notes app, go into a new note, and tap the squiggly line at the bottom-right corner of the screen. This puts you in drawing mode in Notes.

While not the most fully featured drawing app, Notes isn't too bad. However, you will no doubt want to upgrade to a better app. Paper, Autodesk Sketchbook, Penultimate, and Adobe Photoshop Sketch are three great drawing apps for the iPad. They are also free for the base app, so you can take them for a test drive.

How to Check the Apple Pencil's Battery

You can keep track of the Pencil's battery level through the iPad's notification center. If you've never used the notification center, simply swipe down from the very top edge of the screen to open it. (Hint: Start where the time normally appears at the top of the display.)

On the right side of the notification screen is a small window that tabs between Widgets and Notifications. If Widgets isn't already highlighted, tap the Widgets label to switch to widget view. In Widgets, you will see a Batteries section, which shows you the battery power of both your iPad and the Apple Pencil.

If you need to charge the Pencil, simply insert it into the same Lightning port at the bottom of the iPad you used to pair the device. It takes about 15 seconds of charging to give you 30 minutes of battery power, so even if you are low on battery, it doesn't take long to get going again. If the Pencil isn't working properly, various methods can be used to try and fix it.